Maidstone jeweller on snowball growth, cash flow and meditation.

Andrew Marshall and his wife Debbie Marshall opened Maistone jewellery boutique Head & Hart just two years ago and its rapid ascension won the duo places in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012 in association with The Company of Master Jewellers as Ti Sento Retail Stars. Andrew speaks to us about the art of managing cash flow as a new business, why you should always have great relationships with suppliers and adjusting his work-life balance in favour of life through cycling and meditation.

Professional Jeweller: Sum up the past year for us in a sentence.
Andrew Marshall: Growth of customers and sales in an extremely challenging environment and on a personal front we [he and Debbie] celebrated 25 years together on August 31.


PJ: What is the biggest challenge facing your business at the moment?
AM: Cash flow is the biggest problem at the moment and I’m sure we are not alone. The wheel is not turning as it should and it is mostly just the lack of confidence within people about the current economic situation that is suppressing this.

PJ: Has this mad you more thrifty with your spending?
AM: We have to be careful about what we spend our money on and this requires real thought and a bit of luck. Being a small independent business we can make changes quickly to either increase what is working or reduce, and if need be get rid of what isn’t working.

PJ: Have your suppliers been helpful in navigating through this?
AM: Having good solid working relationships with suppliers we have worked with for years has helped immensely and their support has been crucially important – all those years of paying people promptly and being respectful of how we conduct business between each other is helping us now. I can’t say the same for the bigger brands though.

PJ: You have increased your footfall terrifically this year – how have you achieved this?
AM: Footfall has increased as more people have become aware of Head & Hart, I think it takes time for people to feel comfortable when it comes to spending money in a jewellers – there is a greater expectation from a customer when they are buying jewellery than most other products even if they are not any more expensive and therefore there is bigger barrier to break down sometimes. We are very friendly but this only comes across when you have entered the shop, so it is important to try and make the whole shop appealing. We have done this by putting a lot of effort and cost into how the shop looks this set us apart from our competitors and will make the customer notice our shop.

PJ: Sales are up too, by a significant amount. What is the secret behind your success?
AM: We are friendly and genuine and this comes across, and it appeals to customers. They recognise real interest from us in what they are buying and true passion in what we are selling. Head & Hart has only been open for two years so we are still growing. With more and more people finding us and being happy with our service and products, sales and customers will only increase.

PJ: You seem to be investing in people, both your staff through training and your customers through customer events – are you and Debbie both people people?
AM: Yes, I think we are both interested in people. I have often said that we are in the business of being involved in other peoples happiness, whether that is a special occasion or just buying a gift for your loved ones or yourself; these all involve happiness, so why not enjoy this? Those who work in the jewellery industry can often get frustrated when someone from outside might comment that “you just work in a shop”. The knowledge that is required in product, jewellery processes for manufacture and repair as well as customer relations is very extensive and always changing so staff training is very important. Customers love special events especially if the whole thing is made to feel more personal and that is where remembering customers and making that come across in your dealings with them really counts.

PJ: How do you and Debbie split the workload at Head & Hart?
AM: We both work full time. Debbie is a natural magnet that everyone loves, she also has the eye for style and taste, but for her sins she has to do the accounts and truly detests this as it requires tidying up. I’m the organiser trying to make the whole thing work together and tidy up. We both do things that overlap each other in many ways and this is useful for working together as it means that we are interchangeable in our roles.

PJ: Do you find it difficult to work together and live together?
AM: It is difficult both working and living together, and it is hard to not talk about work when we are at home, but I think we can both achieve this at times and quite often it might be one or the other saying “let’s not talk about work now”.

PJ: It has no doubt been a busy first two years for you and Head & Hart. Have you managed to find time for yourselves outside of the business?
AM: Since we opened Head & Hart our work-life balance is out of kilter to what would be ideal but we are both prepared to work hard to achieve success. In early 2011 I started to practise Vipassana meditation by going on a 10 day retreat and now use meditation daily. I also love cycling and will go anywhere I can on my bike. Both of these are a fantastic benefit to me and a great stress relief. Debbie still finds a nice cold glass of dry Chardonnay, a comfy sofa and some magazines the best way to relax.

PJ: What plans do you have for Head & Hart in the next year?
AM: Success with a faster growth – the snowball effect. A greater development of our diamond and finer jewellery stock, better local networking with independent businesses, to further develop our website to better represent us and our very beautiful shop, and to shift the work-life balance in favour of life.